Call for more chain stores in Sidmouth triggers strong defence of ‘unique’ town

Sidmouth shops. Ref shs 7054-06-15SH. Photo Simon Horn

Sidmouth shops. Ref shs 7054-06-15SH. Photo Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

A resident’s letter calling for more chain stores in Sidmouth has prompted a strong defence of the town’s independent traders - and a flurry of correspondence to the Herald’s Opinion pages.

Louisa Wheatley’s views that the town would thrive with the addition of outlets such as Marks and Spencer, WH Smith and Prezzo has provoked anger from business owners and residents alike.

Our letters section (opposite and on pages 12 and 14) shows how many readers have responded to the idea.

But Miss Wheatley was this week sticking to her guns – and does not think she is the only resident with such views.

Jo Johnstone owns Paper Moon card and gift shop in Fore Street, and said she was ‘exceptionally angry’ about Miss Wheatley’s damning review of the town.

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She said: “This is a person who has made a choice to move to Sidmouth but seems to think as soon as she arrives, she can blast us all.”

“People rave about the town and visitors constantly come back because they love the independent shops that they cannot get in their own towns.”

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She added that her business attracts a lot of regular customers who travel from Exeter specifically for the independent shops in Sidmouth.

Former Sidmouth resident Shirley Pyro, 57, regularly comes back to the town and agrees it is no place for the big chain stores.

“That would not be Sidmouth and it would not be fair on the places that are here now,” she said.

Owner of The Loft restaurant, Katrina Lort, said: “I speak to hundreds and thousands of people who come to Sidmouth over the year and they all come here for one reason - and that is because it is so unique.”

Miss Wheatley, 48, of Cotmaton Road, has defended her comments and says she is not alone in thinking Sidmouth needs to move forward.

She said this week: “If you walk down Fore Street, you can see it is a town in decline.

“I do think it is terribly sad because it could be thriving.

“Sidmouth is such a hotchpotch of independents, we do not know when they are open, or when they will close.

“It is almost impossible to get a cup of tea in the afternoon after 4pm.

“I do not feel that is giving customers or tourists proper customer care. Why should you have to go into the city? Sidmouth is a reasonably sized town, why shouldn’t it provide for the people in the town?”

In response to the question of why she moved to Sidmouth, Miss Wheatley said she loves the coast but feels the town is ‘getting left behind’.

“Youngsters want to see chains [stores]. The people who are resistant to change are the ones holding the town back,” she said.

Some residents agree that high street shops would be a benefit to people in the town.

Matt Isaac, 24, of High Street said: “It would get a few more people down here, it just seems to be charity shops now.

“Since Woolworths has gone, there is nothing to attract young people down here.

“There is nowhere you can go to buy CDs or DVDs around Sidmouth.

“I always thought they could do with free parking on a Sunday as well. You look out of the window on a Sunday and it is dead. If parking was free, it would encourage people to come down.”

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